Victor Pey Casado v. Republic of Chile
by John Dinges
published in the May/June issue of the Columbia Journalism Review
“The irony of Chile’s media is that there was more ideological diversity and journalistic energy in the printed press in the late 1980s, in the waning years of the hard-line dictatorship of General Augusto Pinochet, than now when he is long gone and proponents of democracy are firmly in control. Two daily newspapers, El Mercurio and La Tercera, dominate. Both are politically right of center. Their virtual monopoly is a legacy of the scorched-earth ideological repression that took place when Pinochet took power in the 1970s, confiscating or closing all media organizations that did not cheer on his military government. Chile’s newspaper market became what one study called a market ”duopoly… accompanied by an ideological monopoly.”
One might think that such an unbalanced press would have been remedied in the sixteen years since Pinochet left power, especially considering that the center-left Concertación, a coalition of moderate Socialists and Christian Democrats, has won all the elections. But one would be wrong.”
The article relates the story of a country which seems to have all its principles backwards and inside out, one in which works actively to stifle the creation of a press which could advance a more profound democratic transition in a desperate country.
The exhaustively reported piece also tells the story of why the most recent of Chile’s failed newspaper/magazine, Diario Siete/Siete Más 7, run by Mónica Gonzalez, is an extension of the actions and beliefs of the government which have led to the on-going legal battle by Victor Pey.
Victor Pey is the 92 year old owner of the extinct Chilean daily paper, El Clarin, and was a friend of two of Chile’s most notable historical heavyweights, Pablo Neruda and Salvador Allende. These figures died around the same time that El Clarin and its printing presses were confiscated by the military junta led by Augusto Pinochet in 1973.
His life in Chile in some ways hinged upon the lives of those three men. It was Pablo Neruda who arranged for the ship Winnipeg to go to Barcelona, Spain and pick up the political exiles being persecuted by the Franco dictatorship, among them Pey and his family. Check out this set of interviews in the BBC with Pey in 2004. It was Allende whom the newspaper El Clarin supported faithfully and succesfully in his rise to the presidency in 1971 and it was Pinochet’s government who placed Pey on the list of people to report to authorities in the days after the coup, whom were later killed. Pey instead found haven in a foreign embassy and soon left the country.
The newspaper, its printing presses and all documentation where snuffed out, shut down and destroyed. Upon return to Chile he set out on a long and laborious paper trail which has provided the foundations for his legal case against the Chilean government to recover financial compensation for the newspaper. The reasons for why the Chilean government acted this way is in the CJR article He was still on this paper trail when I took his photo before entering the periodicals room of the Biblioteca Nacional, looking for a newspaper article on microfilm. The records were not there. His next stop was the periodicals room of the ex-Congress of Santiago. He promised to help me navigate the multiple, disparate archives registering Chilean history in my future quest to tell the history of my family in Chile.
He awaits a decision by the ICSID (CIADI), a body of the World Bank which arbitrates and conciliates conflicts between foreign private investors and governments. A positive resolution would grant him between 100 and 500 million dollars in reimbursement from the Chilean government. He plans to set up the newspaper again.